Turning Creative Block into Creative Process

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Writer’s block can be a really difficult challenge. It can seem insurmountable. It’s a big pile of NO NO NO NO that keeps you from going anywhere. Except in many ways, writer’s block is something we have created ourselves. It’s a trick we play on ourselves to avoid the things that really scare us. Our fears of not being good enough. Our reluctance to face our emotions. The commitment it takes to be an artist. The idea that if we try our best at something we really want we may fail, and then lose our dreams. It’s scary. But lots of things are scary and sometimes all you need is to grit your teeth and make one small step to break through that block. Don’t give up… look for a different way through that block.

  1. Scrap it. Go back before you got stuck and start from there. Maybe there was something about your project that made you subconsciously resist moving forward down the wrong path.
  2. Doodle. Try a low stakes, low brain power creative output. Turn your brain off. Let your hands work.
  3. Take baby steps. Break it down into smaller pieces. Get through one scene. One paragraph. One sentence.
  4. Set a timer for 15 minutes and commit to working that whole time, even if you don’t think it will be good. Don’t stop. If you want to keep working after the timer rings, go for it.
  5. Ask someone for ideas on how to break through. Ask anyone. You may be surprised. I once asked my 9 year old son how I should get my characters out of a sticky situation, and he broke it down in such a way and came up with such solutions that I was no longer stuck and could move on to the next scene.
  6. Cry. Let your frustration out. It’s okay. Or hit a punching bag. Scream nice and long. Sometimes we repress our emotions to the point that we freeze up. Let it out. Release, in whatever way that works for you. And then return to your work.
  7. Do a photo essay. Sometimes, moving into a different medium can help the creative juices flow. Try snapping photographs that remind you of your project, characters, themes, setting. Keep your brain in your story while exercising your creativity in a new way.
  8. Read your project over again. Or your notes. Go back to when your inspiration was fresh and revisit it. Keep a notepad handy and keep track of your ideas as they come.
  9. Interview a character. Sometimes, we freeze up because we are not completely clear on the truth of what we are writing about. Ask the characters questions, and then imagine how they would respond. Putting yourself in the place of characters, especially secondary characters can lead to surprising revelations and break through that block.
  10. Switch it up. Change the POV, or the setting, night to day, male to female. Write in letter format or toss in some newspaper articles about what is happening in your story.
  11. Explore the past of your story. Write the history of a character, how they came to be. Where their people came from. A defining struggle in their life. The insight this provides could a complexity to your story you never imagined, even if it never gets into the story proper.
  12. Take on writing challenges. Use prompts. Exercise your skill and look for creative ways to incorporate new ideas into your work.
  13. Write a two minute poem. Loosen up the flow of words and creativity by letting go of prose. Trick your block by taking it out of the project that has you stumped.
  14. Dance. Or shower. Or go for a run. Meditate. Do something physical. Stop trying to push through and instead live in your body for a bit. Come back later. But do come back.
  15. Write your story in the style of your favorite author. How would Shakespeare handle your characters? How would Jane Austen wrangle your plot? What would Stephen King do with your antagonist? You don’t have to use any of this in your project, but what if you found something you would like to use?

The point is, if you want to write, you have to write. And to get through the resistance to writing, the fear, the confusion, the insecurity, and/or the blank page, you just have to write. So take a detour around your block. Find another way through.  Switch the game and you find all of a sudden that perhaps the game is not quite as intimidating as you thought it was.

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Here’s the thing about attaining your dreams…it won’t happen unless you commit to making it happen.

So here I am, making a commitment.

I am going to write. I am going to take the steps to BE a writer. I am going to treat my writing like I am a professional. I make this commitment because not only is being a writer my dream, not only do I love to write, no matter how hard it is or how my anti-dream tries to fight against it, but because I choose to write.

I choose to deal with that mean old internal editor. I choose to wrestle with my demons. I choose to lay down each word one after the other until they take on a life of their own. I choose to attack those words with a machete made of a red pen (purple, actually) until they are shiny. I choose to spend many hours alone in my room with just me and the people in my head. I choose to send my kids off to watch tv instead of bugging me. I choose to sit down, every day and write, whether or not I want to write in that instant.

That’s the hardest part, honestly. Facing myself and my resistance. I was doing pretty well with it… until I was not. So now I come to you, and tell you I am making my commitment.  It looks like I might also be committing to this blog, because I this is what’s known as a “writer’s platform,” and I’ve decided that in order to take my writing seriously, I want to be seen, and heard. And published. And I want to be held accountable for my writing. I want to owe something to my readers and know that I, Rowena, want to be there for them, especially since I have been absent from blogging for so long.

Now, granted, it’s an assumption on my part to think that I have readers, considering that long absence, but you know me, I’m warriorgirl. And even though I have not been writing to you, I have been warriorgirling on, in my silence. I have a whole lot of new lessons and insights to give you.

As part of my commitment, I signed up for #the100daysproject. I’ve done 100 days of creativity challenges before and I enjoyed them a great deal, but this time, I’m choosing to commit to writing every day for 100 days, not writing blog posts, but writing in my novels. I am in the revision stage (soon to be the sending out for representation phase) so a lot of my writing will be about rewriting and creating outlines and synopses and such, and writing itself doesn’t offer the same kind of pretty pinable pictures that you get from doing art challenges, but that’s what I need, as a writer. I need to commit.

So I am going to do it, and I am going to be documenting my progress on my instagram. If any one else wants to do it with me, let’s go. What do you want to commit to? What do you want to be held accountable to for 100 days?  It starts on Monday, the eclipse. How auspicious.

 

 

 

Brooklyn Horizon, or Becoming a Student of Writing Again

Brooklyn Horizon by Rowena MurilloI have a confession. In case you haven’t guessed, I have a pretty tough case of writer’s block.

Whether or not I actually believe in writer’s block, the particular conjunction of physical, emotional, mental, psychological and temporal jam ups are combining, along with a lot of narrative confusion and a smidge of laziness, into what we can call “block.”

Last night I had a dream that I was back in college. It was not an anxiety dream with the naked test taking. I was there to study. I went to the library.

I woke up convinced that what I needed to do was to stop pretending that the writing would just come back without much effort on my part, that I would just sit down and all of a sudden start writing again. I needed to admit that I had fallen into disuse. Well, the writer I, anyway.

Today I realized that I had to “go back to school” and start taking my scholarship, my study, my learning work seriously. I had to re-commit to being a writer, even if that meant I had to start over again.

I still, however, have to work and raise kids and it’s not like I can just whisk myself off to Iowa and get an MFA. But if I want to get back to being a writer, something needs to change in my behaviors and patterns and mindset.

So, this morning, I returned to my past as a student, sat down and looked back at who I used to be, someone who was bent on becoming the best writer she could be and tried to understand many different perspectives and learn from many different voices. When I painted this picture out of my window, of the Brooklyn sky, I was a writer. I was committed to learning and practicing my craft and working and teaching and reading and, most importantly, writing.

My first step in becoming a student of writing again was to find this lecture on building character, from the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I sat and listened, and wrote notes. I chose this particular lecture because I believe my narrative confusion stems from not really knowing who my antagonist is.

The lecturer, Caryl Ann Pagel, is a writer, director and actor, and one of the most valuable lessons I came away with is that believable characters are physical beings. Not only do we want to have a general description of our characters appearance but, as writers, need to understand the space that the character is inhabiting, how the environment affects them, how they interact with the environment.

We need to understand the character not just through description but through physical action and their physicality. What are they DOING? What are they saying and to whom? How are they reacting to others? What are they physically doing to try to get what they want?  Showing people in motion is important.

Who are they inside of their bodies? How do their strengths and weaknesses affect the way they move, what they will or won’t do? How do they dress their bodies in keeping with what they believe about themselves?  Looking at character building through the lens of an actor or director, who is physically manifesting the reality of the words, gives us as writers a new way to understand our characters.

As I am writing this, I realize something else that is important: if we want to reach our goal of being writers, then we need to look at what we are physically doing to reach that goal. Not wanting, not thinking about, not mulling over… what action are we taking to achieve that goal?

Because you know what they say… writers write.

The Journal: A Writer’s Place for Lots of Nothing

cloud in my head, cloud in my hand, by Rowena Murillo

One of the great things about a journal is that even when you have nothing to say, you can write, and no one will judge you.

Take all the nothingness and emptiness and confusion of your head and pour it into your journal. Write the shape of the nothingness. Write the taste of it. Flesh out the nothingness so it is a presence on the page the same way it is a presence in your head. Is that a scrap of a sentence? Write it out. Is that a cry of despair. The journal wants to hear it.

Don’t worry if it makes no sense. Don’t worry if it sounds whiny. Don’t worry about it at all. Just keep writing. Let the words move you. Let one word lead to the next word, one sentence follow the last.

Just keep writing. And then write some more.

Writing is how the words come back when you haven’t had any for so long. You just have to show up at the page. You have to write the words, one after the other. This is how meaning is made and this is how you are a writer. Because writers write. And that’s what they do. So get back to writing, even if you have nothing but clouds in your head.

45 Things To Do In 15 Minutes To Feed Your Creativity

Try/Hand, by Rowena Murillo

Try/Hand, by Rowena Murillo

One of the keys to developing your creativity when you have been uncreative for too long is to lower the stakes.

You do not have to create a masterpiece.

There are a few ways you can do this. One is to work smaller. Don’t write a novel…. write a short short story. Don’t paint that grand show stopping masterpiece to hang on the wall… paint a little landscape on the back of a business card. Whatever you want to do, do it, but do it smaller.

Or you can take away the deep and personal meaning to your art… do something that is NOT attached to your soul by taking on an external inspiration. Have someone else suggest your subject, take up an internet challenge, pick random ideas from slips in a jar and create something based on that, rather than that thing you have always really really felt compelled to do.

One more idea to lower the stakes of your creating so that you can just start moving is to limit the time you have.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and promise yourself to do some work in that time.

How can you become a creative person in just 15 minutes? Well, let’s make a list of things you can do to feed your creativity in that time constraint.

45 Things To Do In 15 Minutes To Feed Your Creativity

  1. Go outside and take some photos.
  2. Clean your workspace.
  3. Doodle with no thoughts.
  4. Take a shower and mull things over.
  5. Write a character sketch.
  6. Draw a character sketch.
  7. Interview a character.
  8. Turn on some music and dance.
  9. Throw out the garbage.
  10. Make a 5 year plan for your life.
  11. Call your best friend and talk about your project.
  12. Talk about your dreams with your kids.
  13. Take the dog for a walk.
  14. Cat cuddle (including purrs.)
  15. Have some tea and stare out the window.
  16. Write out all the things you have accomplished or achieved in your whole life.
  17. Organize your art/office supplies.
  18. Re-read your old journal from 5 years ago.
  19. Write a poem.
  20. Read a great novel.
  21. Read a book about your art/craft.
  22. Write a blog entry.
  23. Review your portfolio of past work.
  24. Review your inspiration files.
  25. Water your plants.
  26. Write a list of things you are thankful for.
  27. Meditate.
  28. Take a walk around the block.
  29. Have a snack.
  30. Power nap.
  31. Take an old project and recycle it into something new.
  32. Draw 3 five minute sketches of things you see.
  33. Make a collage.
  34. Play an instrument.
  35. Sing a song or 2 or 3.
  36. Mix up some brownies and throw them in the oven.
  37. Paint your nails.
  38. Write a poem and finish it in 15 minutes.
  39. Re-read your writing.
  40. Dress up and take a selfies.
  41. Tell everyone you know that you are committing to your art.
  42. Sign up for a class or workshop or group or club.
  43. Make a schedule for your daily routine
  44. Write a to do list.
  45. Write a list of things you can do in 15 minutes that can improve your creativity.

Please note: not all of these things are technically “creative” things. Throwing out your garbage is not creative… but it does leave a space for you to be creative, in the same way that meditation, or doodling mindlessly or staring out of the window creates a mental space for creativity. A lot of being creative means acting intentionally. It means being open to ideas and thoughts and feelings. It means being present and active in your own creativity. Sometimes that means you have to be present to take care of your space, and your body. Sometimes it means you have to plan your ideas out. Sometimes it means coming at your creativity slantwise, through a different medium, or beginning a dialogue, or remembering who you once were.

For me, when I set that timer, I will get rid of the idea that in order to be creative, I have to have that big block of time. I will get rid of the idea that every moment I have must be utilized to perfection. I will get rid of the idea that I have to have it all figured out in order to be creative.

When I set that timer, I will just be present, for fifteen minutes, and do whatever it is I have committed to. And I will be present for the inspiration that comes.

8 Things to Get My Creative Mojo Going

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This Vessel Holds the Flame, by Rowena Murillo

8 Things to Get My Creative Mojo Going

1. Write in a journal. Sometimes it’s nice to write about what’s bothering you, but that often doesn’t get the juices going. Sometimes that just makes you focus on what is keeping you from writing. Better is to write about moving forward. Or write about plans. Or write about where you are right that minute. Write about positive things or things that get you inspired. Keep it positive, get the energy flowing.

2. Get the hands moving and turn off the mind. Sometimes we think too much. We can think ourselves right out of doing. So sometimes I just like to get the hands moving, and not worry so much about what it is I am doing, forget the outcome, forget the perfection, just do. I might be the only person who does this, but I’ve found my most productive painting time can be after the kids go to bed while I watch primetime tv. Not sure why, but I think it has to do with occupying that “think too much” part of my brain while allowing the creative part to arise. This doesn’t work as well with writing. I think because both have to do with words.

3. Make lists of things to do, things youd like to do, things you have to do, things you’ve been thinking about doing, things you dream of doing, things that help you get to doing. Like this list. This is helping.

4. Start small. A little sketch. Some frosted cookies. A haiku. A ribbon hair clip. A collage in a journal, postcard sized watercolors, a paragraph. Whatever it is, lower the stakes and make it small. There’s less at stake this way, less to mess up, more opportunity to explore and take chances without fear of imperfection. Maybe a doodle seems unimportant, which might make it easier to tackle when you’re facing resistance, but maybe that doodle leads to the break through you really need.

5. Get out and do it somewhere else. Take the laptop to a cafe to write. Or try writing poetry on a train/bus/airplane. Take the paintset to the garden. Or knitting to bed. Sometimes a change in venue gets the blockages released.

6. Set a timer. This can work in two ways. One, you can set a timer and commit to being creative for until the bell goes off. I find 15 minutes is a good amount of time. It’s not too big a commitment to keep you from sitting down, but it’s not so short a time that you can’t really get into doing the work. And once you’re into the work, the resistance has been beaten. And two, you can set the alarm for doing something that has been keeping you from your work, chores and the like. If you can’t work because your study is a wreck, clean for 15 minutes before you start work. If you have that phone call you’ve been dreading weighing on your conscience, take that 15 minutes to take care of it. Use the timer to clear the deck for your work. Maybe it’s the other stuff that’s been cluttering your creativity.

7. Get together with a friend to talk about your work. Or to work together. Or to work separately, but together. Or to act as a sounding board or critical partner or maybe just someone to be accountable. Sometimes being creative is a lonely job, but sometimes it helps to have someone along. Find a community, take a class, join a challenge. Other people help to get the funk released.

8. Just do it. There is no equivocating. Just get started. Start the painting. Start the revision. Stop thinking about doing and just do. I’ve always hated that Nike could co opt such a good motivational tool, but those advertisers do know what they’re doing. Just do it. Just do it. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be done. Maybe next time it will be better. Maybe. But one thing I know for sure, you can’t break through that resistance if you don’t just sit down and do it.

 

This list was originally posted in warriorgirl.  It seems like the right time and place to post it to my new blog, with new art, since I am in the process of, yet again, getting my creative mojo back. Sometimes I need to take the advice of my younger self. Sometimes I was smarter then than I am now. Mojo ahoy!

Flying Girl Underwater, or Surfacing

Flying Girl Swims, or Surfacing. by Rowena Murillo

One of the things about being creative, for me at least, is that there are periods, sometimes very long periods, where there seems to be nothing creative happening.

It can be very disheartening to find yourself in the middle of one of these fallow periods. “Have I lost it?” you ask yourself. “What is wrong with me?”  “Will I ever be creative again?” “Should I just give up?”

No. Nothing. Yes. And definitely not.

Being creative means that you are constantly pushing your own boundaries, looking for new ideas and methods. Creating worlds out of your own head. Putting your energy into your projects. Taking in everything that is happening in the world around you to turn into your art. Sometimes, there can be an imbalance, the world seems to take over, or you burn out, or you “run out of ideas,” or your psyche starts pushing back. That’s ok.

Sometimes you need to step back, put your energy into the outside world, let the ideas percolate in darkness without conscious help, learn new things, overcome old challenges, and give yourself a break.

Of course there’s a problem with taking a break from your creative work. It’s not so easy to just pick up where you left off, productive and flowing with ideas. How do you go from doing nothing to being creative again?

It’s tough. It’s hard work. And it often seems that there is nothing to show for your hard work, or your hard work isn’t actually part of being creative, at all. But that’s not true. Think of your fallow creative period as the season of winter. There’s nothing growing, right? Everything is dead and quiet and cold.  Silent.

But that’s not true. Underneath the surface of the earth, things are growing. Inside of the plants, energy is being stored. As the days get longer and the sun gets warmer, the growth is happening out of sight, only small signs are visible at all, shoots pushing through the earth, a swelling of the tips of the branches. A bird flying home.  But bit by bit, those small signs add up, and then one day, after hard rain, the sun comes out and all of a sudden, it’s Spring, with flowers and green leaves and baby bunnies.

Coming out of a creative fallow period is a lot like that.

Consider this new blog the bird flying home of my creativity.

Nice to see you again.